Submitted by Nichelle Harper on Wed, 05/20/2020 - 11:41
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >What is Genius Hour? Let's Talk About Self Directed Learning</span>

What is Genius Hour? Let's Talk About Self Directed Learning

Without a doubt personal and meaningful learning has the ability to create lasting impressions in education. Beyond the rigid test-driven climate of most schools today, Genius hour gives students space to learn and achieve knowledge with little influence, rules, or boundaries. This type of less organized, less formal, and definitely far from organized learning is very different from what we are often accustomed to. In fact, organized learning is the opposite of what Genius hour is. Genius hour is a planned period of time where students are allotted the space, resources, and the audience to create and imagine freely while learning. It is characterized by its lack of specific rules and dependence on students’ intrinsic motivators. It is learning that is centered around the students and their interests. This blog will explore Genius hour and the assumption that if given time and space students will achieve mastery through self-directed learning while creating purposeful and personal connections to their own creations. 

Creativity and authentic learning are synonymous with Genius hour because learning and discovery transpire organically and begin to take root. Students are attracted to this type of learning because many adventurous aspects of insight occur during the process. When implemented in the classroom, this type of learning environment places emphasis on inquiry and research, innovation, and discovery and leads to new challenging opportunities for your students to conquer. Even with the many characteristics that strike a contrast between Genius hour and other traditional teaching methods, this type of learning has proven effective results in many classrooms across America! Every approach is different based on the classrooms’ and/or districts’ resources and nature. Oftentimes teachers have trouble receiving administration approval because many do not understand how this fairly new learning method benefits students. In this case, this Genius hour resource has tips on how to propose your Genius hour idea to your district and/or school administration. Also, the presence of few but specific rules and framing can determine how effective it is. The video below by John Spencer presents a nice visual overview of this style of learning:



Genius hour: What to Expect

Allowing students to discover purpose while exploring their own curiosities through self-directed learning is a huge step away from the norm, but it is a core principle of genius hour. This learning style allows the students' support system to be the classroom as they express themselves through self-led discovery for at least 20% of their time in the classroom. It provides students with a choice in what they want to learn, helping them to grow in socioemotional development, creative thinking, self-esteem, confidence, independence, while simultaneously reaching learning objectives. According to TeachThought, here are 6 important principles in Genius hour:

  1. Sense of Purpose: Helping students find purpose in their interests, understand it, and gives them the freedom to create.
  2. Design: Students have the opportunity to design their own learning and achievement.
  3. Inquiry & Navigation: Students indulge in inquiry-based learning by learning more about what interests them.
  4. Create: Core to Genius hour, the function, and physical product that come from the student learning new material.
  5. Socialization: Connections are made! Students plan with teachers, peers, and even the community to establish a sense of purpose.
  6. 80/20 Rule: It is the only structure in Genius hour. It required a schedule with careful assimilation with traditional structure learning.

The results of self-directed learning are emulated by the growth in students and educators. You will find that some students exceed your expectations and will learn the true capacity of their knowledge and creativity. Your students may discover new passions and understand new concepts. If you are seeking to adopt this method in your class you will want to provide your students with access to real audiences and encourage them to document and notate their experience along the way. Don't allow your fears to get in the way! Educators are seeing so many results when Genius hour is implemented.

The less boundaries created when implementing Genius hour, the better. However, setting the stage by presenting a question or ensuring the learning is timed can be a key element to its success. Each classrooms' process will vary of course because every classroom is different. Ensure that all students have ample time to plan and process their understanding of the end goal for their project. You'll want to help your students find a balance between planning and working on their projects so that the maximum result can be achieved. Then, students will have the right tools to indulge themselves in their research. Meanwhile, ask them questions about their specific research that can deepen not only their learning, but yours as well.


How Does This Look?

More educators are implementing this learning practice in their classrooms than ever. A Lot of them are wondering, “how can this be implemented into my lesson plan successfully?”, or “how does this look when put into practice?”. The truth is, the basic structure of successful Genius hour are these 7 stages, (1) Planning, where teachers allot a space of time for this learning and solidify a few rules, (2) Topic Selection, when students select a topic independently, (3) The pitch, students present their topic to the class, (4) Research, Learning & Journalling, when the research takes place, (5) Making, when creation takes place, (6) Presentations, students present their final product or learning, and lastly, (7) Reflections when students reflect on their learning, reasons behind the learning, and the connections that were made. 

When first introduced, just to get inquiry going in the classroom, dedicate an entire period to just allow students to learn about whatever they want. At the end of the period allow the class to share what their individual learning was, and why they wanted to learn it. Most teachers are grading students on their work ethic each day of the process. Their ability to challenge themselves, and to be intentional about the learning process is essential and is what determines their success in the class.


3 Genius Hour Inspiration Ideas from real teachers on

Genius Hour Inspiration #3: 

This week for Genius hour the students are starting to research their ideas. It couldn’t have come at a better time because this week our department received a cart of 30 Chromebooks. The students were thrilled to be able to research their projects from their own desks instead of having to go to the computer lab. Each week I’m going to throw out some tips that the students can use that will help them with their projects along the way. I’m calling them ‘pro tips’.”

Genius Hour Inspiration #2: 

This week I showed students how to use a Google Doc as a dumping ground for their research. I showed them how to copy and paste information from the web as well as how to copy URLs and pictures for later use. I also explained to them that it was OK to copy information for our own research processes, but that when they create their own projects the verbiage needs to be either cited or in their own words.

Most of the students did a good job getting started. I did have a few that messed around a little more than they should have and one of them I had to even shut down and given an alternative assignment to. The class was really focused after that. I hated to have to remove someone from the project this early. I felt like I needed to set the expectations now just because we are doing something fun that it isn’t a time to play around.  That student will be back with the group next week.

At the end of the class period, I took a very unstructured poll about how much time the students felt like they needed for research. The majority said that a total of 3-4 weeks would be sufficient time to get the data that they need to begin the creation phase of their projects.

I’ve posted a few pictures of students working on their projects. I’m still not 100% sure about posting students' pictures from our school online, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve made a note to myself to figure out our district's digital policy as it relates to students.  There’s a lot of gray area and I want to be sure that I’m not crossing into any zone that I shouldn’t be.”

Genius Inspiration #3: 

“In many classrooms, the teacher talks at the front of the class for the entire period while the students take notes about that particular lesson. Although there may be some good interaction between the teacher and students, I can almost guarantee that there is at least 5-15 minutes of wasted time due to disruptions in the class, and waiting for students to catch up with their notes.

What I have had a lot of success within my class is to video the heart of my lesson and show it at the beginning of class. I have been able to compact a 40-minute lesson into a video that is under 10 minutes. During the video, the students take notes on a graphic organizer that I have prepared for them. I used to believe that it was important that a student write down everything that I said, but I have come to realize that understanding the content is king.  It is more valuable that a student have notes that they can reflect on that are actually legible.  During the remainder of my class I’m able to allow students to work on projects that let them practice and dig deeper into the content that they just learned.

I have lectured far less this year than previous years, yet student scores and understanding has greatly improved...”



Genius hour is a tool that invokes insight and creative thinking in your students. When implemented properly, learning has the potential to stretch beyond what we imagine and create meaningful connections to important concepts in your students’ life. It teaches students how to research and to be confident in their passions and interests. Using technology and incorporating blended learning tools and techniques can take your Genius hour to the next level. For more information about Genius hour, visit

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